The Ngaanyatjarra Lands make up a region of 160,000 square kilometres in the eastern part of Western Australia on the border to the Northern Territory and South Australia. Roughly 1,800 people belonging to the Ngaanyatjarra linguistic group have lived here since time immemorial and now live together in eleven communities. In 1990, the Ngaanyatjarra people founded the Warburton Arts Project in order to preserve and maintain their culture. Paintings from the Ngaanyatjarra Lands have now attracted much attention, although painting is a relatively young tradition. Works made of wood (purnu) and woven objects made of grass (tjanpi) have always been created here. Members of five art centres functioning in the area are represented in the exhibition.
What makes these young artist communities so special is that they consist mainly of artists who have come together in the last stage of life. Their works utilise a very unique imagery. The artists’ advanced age gives them the freedom to implement their conception of tjukurrpa, the time which the aborigines believe was created as it is today, from a different, focused perspective. Furthermore, the age-related wealth of mythological knowledge allows them to select and concentrate on key core contents. The tjukurrpa explains which ancestors created the land long ago and gives reasons why its appearance has changed since then. Specific geographical features can thus always be explained by an act of one or several original ancestors. In this mythical “dream time,” these ancestors prescribed the ritual acts which are linked to a particular place. People who know about this through ancient traditions can also combine past and present to form one period of time – and naturally also paint this “history of time.”
The tjukurrpa thus originated in places which actully exist. Wanarn, for example, is on the one hand the name of a place where a group of elderly artists live and paint. However, before 1988 when construction of buildings to accommodate a community of elders began, the name had long since designated a kind of junction of various “dream time” paths which was perceived as an ideal location to put stories about it on canvas.
One of the essential parts of an art centre in the Ngaanyatjarra Lands is always that its members both work continually where they live and where the story they are painting originated. They believe firmly that they must pass on traditional knowledge to the younger generation. Thus an art centre is also the centre of community life where up to four generations come together to paint and sing and to tell and re-tell excerpts from mythical prehistoric times (tjukurrpa).
These cooperatives never ask what art is for but rather who it is for. It is there for people - and not only by giving older people an opportunity to pass on as much as possible of their infinite store of wisdom and knowledge to posterity, but also by acting practically as service providers for the region’s old-age home and promoting painting as therapy. Many of the artists suffer from dementia.
The history paintings are another special feature of Ngaanyatjarra art. Their representatives document prominent events in the history of their region figuratively.
With the art of Australian aborigines from the Ngaanyatjarra Lands, ARTKELCH Gallery from Freiburg is once again being hosted by the Museum Fünf Kontinente (Five Continents Museum). The paintings come from the artist cooperatives Papulankutja Artists, Kayili Artists, Warakurna Artists, Tjarlirli Art und The Minyma Kutjara Arts Project. The exhibition is part of the Pro Community series which annually presents indigenous art from a region in Australia in different places. These works of art can be purchased in order to support aboriginal artists.
“The people in Wanarn are very old, but their paintings tell stories about their country so they can remember. And they tell the stories so that young people can understand them,” says Eunice Porter from the Warakurna Artists art centre. Eileen Giles from the Tjarlirli Art cooperative emphasises: “Today many young people are going in new directions in painting. They see the world around them and in school so they work more figuratively. But they observe older people who tend to paint in a traditional style and see this, too. They hear art in the form of singing, dance and storytelling. And they feel it physically. This is very important for our culture.”